My father used to tell me about the first years. That it was strange initially, but then, things seemed to settle. Humans were left to their own devices, despite their sudden knowledge of their role as currency. God wasn’t concerned about humans finding a way off Earth. He knew they weren’t capable for he knew more about the universe than all of humanity, as it was meant to be, as he wanted it.
But that only spurred many of the survivors to begin exploring space exploration, high technologies that before were put on pause or hidden in constant secrecy for profit. That should have been the warning sign, my father would say as he’d tuck me in, our constant need for profit was a mere reflection of our purpose of existence. We simply didn’t understand that it was us, who were the actual commodities. Children playing out projections for generations.
After that realization coupled with complete freedom, humanity became crazed with passion. No one could be hampered or subdued, everyone was rabid with innovation. Chaos rose from the slavish desire to create that something that would solve everything. My father was no exception. His visions were varied and great, grander than most others and involved the greatest archival library in existence. The library, however, wasn’t accessible to anyone, but those who my father approved, which was nearly the population of a small town considering how many artifact hunters he hired.
I’d known Peach since I was a kid. She’d been an orphan found on a cold and snowy borderland as a young girl. No one knows who her parents were though, or if they were truly dead. It was assumed so. The artifact hunter who brought her back explained to my father that she had especially sharp senses. As she grew, I found those same senses to be exceptional.
So, when Peach paused in the hallway, lifting a hand to stop our path, I halted in midstep.
“Do you hear that?” She glanced about the dim corridor. The scent of the massacre trailed after us, but a dank musky smell had started to soak into our clothes. Silence buzzed around us, then lightly, briefly, there was a creaking.
“Yes,” I whisper, turning around towards the creaking to stare at a closed door painted black, “Did you notice that when we came in?”
“No, no, I did not.” Peach murmured, stepping beside me, “Let’s go check it out.”
“What?” My eyes widen, stinging from the dust that hangs in the air, “Do you have goggles?”
She hands me a pair of basic black and silver goggles before hurriedly walking towards the door, “I bet the other artifacts are in here.”
“Maybe we should call for the reserves?” I suggest, following as I secure the goggles over my eyes.
“Nonsense,” she chuckled as she opened the door, “Oh.”
I quickly step backwards, moving away from the door frame. Shadowy tendrils lash out, wrapping around Peach. My pace quickens to a jog as I watch her body twist uselessly. The tentacles draw her away into the dark room as the door slams shut.
My heart is beating fast.
The floor creaks loudly. Turning, I decide to run, it is the best chance I have, I figure. Clenching the handle of the case, I hurry towards the stairwell, which leads to the door we entered from.
I can see the door rippling, phasing in and out of existence. Grabbing my phone, I press the quick dial and my father is on the other line instantly, “We need help, now. Peach got taken by something.”
“Reserves are on their way, are you somewhere safe?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted, “We only found one of the artifacts.”
“Uhm,” I try to recall the details, but they are blurry, “It’s gold.”
“That isn’t very helpful, Daffodil.”
“Sorry, dad. I’m at the front door. It won’t open.” I pull and push on the doorknob, looking at the nearby window. Abandoning the door, I kick out the window. Glass shatters around my foot, slicing my leggings apart. Leaping through the narrow frame, I laugh as I make it outside, “I did it!”
“Hurry to the launch base and the reserves will search for Peach. I don’t want you getting anymore hurt.” By the tone of his voice, I knew he had heard the window breaking.
Most died on the first day when God descended. The skies announced his reclamation of Earth as his dominion, casting down those who claimed leadership over his people… and to be clear, his people were all human beings. The very species he owned, just as some would claim they own gold, but even more so, we were God’s currency in the universal marketplace.
It didn’t so matter how we acted or what we thought, as long as we had our souls.
Society changed somewhat, but the remaining populations adapted regardless. It’s been sixty years since then, which brings us to my current situation.
I’m looking at a scene of absolute destruction; blood paints the walls, soaking the coarse carpet, a distinct scent of sulfur and bile reverberate in the air. Clenching my teeth, I tense against the sensation to vomit.
“What do you think happened?” Peach, my partner, follows inside. She takes a sharp turn and heads towards the lockbox in the corner.
I shake my head, “You got another one of those masks?”
She pauses, manicured hands searching through her long coat. There were many pockets to rifle through, but she found the mask at the first one.
“Thanks,” I take the paper mask, putting the strings over my ears. It’s too late though, the wretched scent is already in my body, “Let’s just get the artifacts and go.”
The blonde shrugs at me, turning and running the decoder over the numberpad. She taps the keys that have residue built into them. The second try opens the box. Stepping over a long-dead corpse torn to shreds, I prepare the case. It is a heavy, metal box, similar size to a hatbox, if a hatbox was a cube instead. Inside, it is lined with soft padding underneath vinyl fabric to prevent water leaking in. Snapping nylon straps, I take the artifact from Peach to secure it in the case. The touch burns my skin. I drop it into the case, hissing at the stinging pain in my fingers and palm.
“Gosh, are you okay?” Peach gasps, standing and retrieving a joint from her moss green coat. She lights it and walks towards the corpses while waiting for my response.
Hissing a few more breaths, I nod, “Yeah, least it landed there.” Pressing the straps down against the precious item, I close the case and lock it.
“Where are the others though?” Peach mused on the farside of the room. She pushed a rotting body out of the leather executive chair, dusting it off and sitting down with a loud exhale. Swinging her boots up onto the desk, she examines a framed picture, “Why wouldn’t they all be in the safe anyhow?”
“I don’t know.” I shrug, “Do you have gloves?”
She twists in the chair, hands searching pockets before placing a pair of leather red wrist gloves. Leaning back, she sighed, “I need coffee.”
I laugh shortly, walking over and taking the gloves, “Maybe there are more safes elsewhere in this place?”
“Probably,” she nodded, “Though you would think all of the good stuff would be around the dead people.”
The inside of the gloves are soft, they soothe the lingering pain. Retrieving the case, I hold it neatly at my side, “Perhaps they aren’t the only dead.”
Lips curling downwards, Peach’s button nose wrinkled and she stood, “What a mess.”
“Tell me about it.” I roll my eyes and sigh, exiting the board room.
My mother left when I was three. She had gone to follow her own dreams. For a few years, she’d send things to the library. Often, those things were long essays about theoretical space travel and applications to the current physics reality. She had visited when I was nineteen, to borrow an artifact for one of her theories.
We had talked briefly, in which she asked what I was planning to do with my time and I answered that I didn’t know. This shocked her and our talk ended there. By evening, she had left again.
My father had never been pleased with my desire to become an artifact hunter. It was one thing to hire people, another thing for his own daughter to practice such danger on a continual basis. Still, he respected visions and if I claimed my purpose was this, he did not wish to argue.
I had never seen such fury in my father’s eyes as today, though. Spit bubbled lightly at the corners of his mouth and his nostrils flared wide. Striding past hired guards, his steps thudded into the tiled floor of the entrance hall.
“Uh oh,” I mutter to Sun, an old friend who’d been a reserve guard since I was young. He glanced at me with similar anger though, which made me begin to wonder what I had actually done and why they were so angry. “Here’s the…” I hold up the case. My father snaps his fingers and Sun takes it like he is cradling a baby.
Wrapping an arm roughly around my shoulders, he lifts me into his pace and we start to walk around the house, “It is good to see you alive,” he huffed, looking as young as he did when he was my age, “I told you this wasn’t a mission for you, why did you still go?”
“I had to,” I lied, “If I didn’t, I don’t know… It wouldn’t have felt right. Have they found Peach?”
“No, not yet. They have found the other artifacts though.”
“That is goo-”
“Your sister has arrived in your absence and… there are some things you must learn.”
“What?” My sister, older by three years, had gone with my mother and this was her first return in over a decade, “What is she doing here?”
“Like I said,” he led me into the study where a lanky woman was examining a binder full of papers. She didn’t look like me for she was gaunt, a wisp of a body, with light green eyes and dyed orange hair that stuck out at the top, but laid upon her shoulders in neat curls. Sharp metal lined her ears and brow, glinting silver against the yellow light of the den, “You have some things to learn.”
“Sister,” the strange woman laid out her hands in an affectionate gesture, “How long it has been!”
“What are you doing here?” I ask as politely as I can manage, sitting on a plush chair and removing my gloves and goggles. Consciously, I primp my matte black hair though it hangs limply around my face.